'Paper gypsies' : representations of the gypsy figure in British literature, c. 1780-1870
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Representations of the Gypsies and their lifestyle were widespread in British culture in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This thesis analyzes the varying literary and artistic responses to the Gypsy figure in the period circa 1780-1870. Addressing not only well-known works by William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walter Scott, John Clare, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold and George Eliot, but also lesser-known or neglected works by Gilbert White, Hannah More, George Crabbe and Samuel Rogers, unpublished archival material from Princess Victoria’s journals, and a range of articles from the periodical press, this thesis examines how the figure of the Gypsy was used to explore differing conceptions of the landscape, identity and freedom, as well as the authoritative discourses of law, religion and science. The influence of William Cowper’s Gypsy episode in Book One of The Task is shown to be profound, and its effect on ensuing literary representations of the Gypsy is an example of my interpretation of Wim Willem’s term ‘paper Gypsies’: the idea that literary Gypsies are often textual (re)constructions of other writers’ work, creating a shared literary, cultural and artistic heritage. A focus on the picturesque and the Gypsies’ role within that genre is a strong theme throughout this thesis. The ambiguity of picturesque Gypsy representations challenges the authority of the leisured viewer, provoking complex responses that either seek to contain the Gypsy’s disruptive potential or demonstrate the figure’s refusal to be controlled. An examination of texts alongside contemporary paintings and sketches of Gypsies by Princess Victoria, George Morland, Thomas Gainsborough, J. M. W. Turner, John Constable and John Everett Millais, elucidates the significance of the Gypsies as ambiguous ciphers in both literature and art.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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